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McFee trees ground to dust


Large trees along Farragut’s McFee Road fell recently to a road-widening project, now under way.

Some Farragut residents may look forward to the road improvements.

But count folks like Steve Williams, who bicycles 25 miles a day for exercise there along Turkey Creek greenway in Anchor Park and elsewhere, among those appalled at how the project began.

“I think it’s a real crime,” Williams said of the felling and removal Wednesday, July 12, of large, healthy oak trees that, Williams said, were broad-limbed and at least a century old.

“Nothing much is left of those shade trees now but several ugly, five-foot mulch piles,” he said. Williams sees a greater community disservice in the loss of a mostly pastoral area of woods, pasture and rural homes, to heavy construction machinery and its aftermath — more traffic and residential development.

Williams said McFee Road residents, near its intersection with Evans Road, are losing some of their front yards to right-of-way in the $2.4 million widening work. Also disappearing, he said, are the neighborhood’s serenity, shade trees and green space.

Farragut town engineer Darryl Smith said the project, which widens the road from its current 40 feet up to 70 feet in places, went through all the required preliminary planning and public hearing stages.

Few routes connect Boyd Station Road with Kingston Pike, he said, and the widening — 80 percent funded with federal revenue administered by the state Department of Transportation — is needed to make the route safer. The work also improves horizontal and vertical alignment with a three-lane Phase I segment of the McFee Road project, completed further north in 2003.

Williams said, however, McFee Road residents he spoke with told him they had moved there to avoid urban sprawl, traffic congestion and to maintain a quality of life. Some have lost trees and other property to the widening, which includes slope work and utility relocation from a Phase I roundabout, south 1.5 miles to Boyd Station Road.

Some residents, Williams said, are retirees on fixed incomes, unlikely to relocate elsewhere.

Williams, a computer program writer who lives in Farragut’s Kingsgate neighborhood, often rides along McFee Road because it offered him peaceful bike rides beneath the shade of large trees that lined his route. Construction crews ended that, he said.

“They have taken massive amounts of space on either side of the road,” Williams said. “Now, the road surface is torn up by tractor treads, and the route is unsafe, especially for those of us who ride bicycles. I feel badly for the people who live here and for animals losing their homes.”

As a nature lover, Williams regrets the number of birds and other wild animals seen along roadways, often victims of speeding motorists.

“This had been one of the last safe places for us to ride,” Williams said. “Now there’s a real slaughter going on of animals along this route.”

Williams said he’s “not a tree hugger” environmentalist. He understands demand for housing, the need for progress, growth and road improvements. But he questions whether the pace and manner of change along McFee Road fits his definition of progress.

“We don’t really need this area clear-cut and turned into just one more development of ‘sci-fi looking’ seven hundred and fifty thousand dollar homes, all jammed together like some in areas along Northshore Drive,” he said.

Smith said, however, that esthetics had been considered in planning the widening. The wider route will have curb and gutter, he said, and its width allows for a hiking-biking trail added along one side. The trail, he said, will be similar to that along Turkey Creek Road, but nearer the road. Plans also call for a new sidewalk on the east side of a widened McFee Road.

Williams, however, asked why government and planners don’t do a better job of “protecting our natural and cultural heritage” by ensuring that such projects are better designed to do least harm to the fewest people, animals and the natural environment.

Williams said one retired couple, McFee Road residents since 1963, told him they had lost their income from a modest rental house, near the right-of-way, because no one now would rent their house amid prospects of heavy road construction so near.

“They’ve lost more than income,” Williams said. “They have lost their peace of mind.”

For his part, Williams said he would have to load up his bicycle and drive into Loudon County to find the same sort of retreat he has enjoyed while biking along McFee Road.

Smith also regretted the loss of trees, but he said that was a necessary prelude to road improvement work.

The Board of Mayor and Aldermen Thursday, July 13, approved a proposal to close McFee Road to through traffic for 90 to 120 days, effective immediately, to expedite work on the route. Smith said the route will stay open for local traffic only, enabling workers to complete the project by summer 2007.

 

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